January 17, 2013 - Making Fresh, Whole Foods an Accessible Reality
Last summer, WOUB interviewed recently-selected Schweitzer Fellow
Laura Ford about her planned Schweitzer service project: a health and
nutrition program for low-income people living in Athens County, Ohio.
Since then, this Schweitzer Fellow from Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
has worked to increase access to healthy foods in the communities of
Glouster and Nelsonville (where poverty levels are disproportionally
high)—and has gone on a personal health journey of her own.
ASF: Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
LF: During medical school rotations, I worked with Allison Batchelor MD, CMD. She spoke with her patients about the Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP)—a
holistic, comprehensive, community-based healthy lifestyle program that
helps participants adopt a more plant-based diet, lose weight, quit
smoking, and reduce their overall disease risk factors. I sat with Dr.
Batchelor as she reviewed each patient’s pre- and post-program
blood pressure, weight, glucose, and lipid levels—all of which were
significantly improved. Her patients testified that they were feeling
better, losing weight, and had more energy.
But for Dr. Batchelor’s low-income and underserved patients, CHIP was
not always an option. For some, the cost (then $320.00) was
prohibitive; for others, attending the program was impossible due to a
lack of transportation.
As a Schweitzer Fellow, I have partnered with Live Healthy Appalachia to bring a modified CHIP course directly to people who are underserved and low-income. The Athens County Health Department
identified people who use food pantries as the population most in
need—especially in Glouster and Nelsonville—”because of their limited
access to prevention resources and lack of environmental
structure/policy to promote health.”
With the support of the Schweitzer Fellowship, as well as a separate
$7,500 grant to employ Farm-to-Table programs, I have worked with Live
Healthy Appalachia to increase these communities’ access to fresh, whole
I’ve also been on a personal journey, seeking the truth about food
and how to keep our bodies healthy. The media presents a lot of
conflicting data, and I wanted to give my patients only accurate
information. As I learned more about the research of plant-based diet
advocates, I saw that I was not eating and living as healthfully as I
had thought. Some of the resulting changes weren’t easy—especially for
my family—but how could I tell participants to do something that I was
ASF: What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
LF: I would like to see more refrigerators and pantries filled
with healthy foods; more personal and community gardens; more people
walking and children playing outside; less (if not no) consumption of
harmful substances; more local grocery stores and restaurants with
plant-strong options; and ultimately, people feeling and moving
better—not stunted by sickness or disease, and able to go on and fulfill
the promise of their lives.
ASF: What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
LF: The alarming rise of obesity and lifestyle-related
disease. Currently, one-third of American adults are obese and one-third
of children are overweight. Consequences of obesity include type 2
diabetes, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, cancer, and so many
other diseases. Collectively and individually, we can take action to
prevent or reverse this trend.
We need to educate ourselves on what a healthy diet is (whole-food,
plant strong), and ensure access for everyone to these foods. We need to
encourage personal and community gardens; share resources, skills, and
creative ideas; promote breastfeeding (so many benefits!); and
discourage smoking and the ingestion of harmful and illicit substances.
We also need to prevent violence, and design and restructure communities
to promote safe walking, biking, and other outdoor activities and
exercise for adults and children alike. All of this will foster improved
physical and mental well-being.
I know this topic has many more complexities, and my recommendations
won’t solve all of our health issues—but they would be a step in the
ASF: What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
LF: The leadership development. I knew, of course, that leadership development was part of the Schweitzer Fellows program, but my primary focus had been on helping the people I’m serving get healthy.
Then, last week, it hit me: The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship is
addressing health disparities by developing leaders in service. Not by us developing our projects, but by “them”
developing us. I see now that all of the support that our financial
sponsors, our Schweitzer program director and associate, our guest
speakers, and my mentors have given us—along with the monthly reports,
reflections, media interviews, opportunities for panel discussions, and
advocacy—have an even greater purpose: to groom, enable, and transform
us, just as we are working to support the underserved people in our
communities. Wow. I am humbled and amazed.
It has been very stimulating to meet with our mentors and with other
Fellows, engage in the diversity of all of our Schweitzer projects
together, and reach out to different people with their unique sets of
needs. I’m grateful to my mentors (Louise, Ruth, Dr. Batchelor, and Dr.
David Drozek) and affiliate organizations like Community Food
Initiatives and Rural Action.
ASF: What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately a Schweitzer Fellow for Life) mean to you?
LF: Along with my current Fellows, and those who have gone
before us and those who will come after us, I am a representative of
Albert Schweitzer’s ideals, and we live for a greater purpose than just
ourselves. We are lifelong colleagues, a network of like-minded
individuals who care about and are excited about each other. We help
each other find solutions, and persevere under adversity. We look not at
what we can’t do, but what we can do. We roll up our sleeves and get to
to learn more about the Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellows Program and
our work to develop leaders, create change, and improve health in
vulnerable communities. We are supported entirely by charitable
donations and grants. Click here to make a donation.